Hasselbaink outburst symbol of Chelsea woes

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Only if Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had called for a bowl of water and a towel and washed his hands in front of the Chelsea fans could he have done more to separate himself from his team's late collapse against Arsenal this week. Or underlined more emphatically the vortex into which his club is threatening to disappear.

Only if Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had called for a bowl of water and a towel and washed his hands in front of the Chelsea fans could he have done more to separate himself from his team's late collapse against Arsenal this week. Or underlined more emphatically the vortex into which his club is threatening to disappear.

He was right up there with Pontius Pilate on the balcony. Some saw this as a valuable statement of indignation from a player who had scored an excellent goal, hit a post and generally created a momentum which the Stamford Bridge faithful had reasonably believed was unstoppable.

Others, some of them not unadjacent to his last English club, Leeds United, saw it as pure Hasselbaink. They saw again the operating style of someone who is to the concept of team pretty much what oil is to water.

In effect, Hasselbaink said that he would have gladly exchanged his man-of-the-match champagne for a few team-mates who had the wit and the nerve to properly defend what should have been an unassailable advantage. "It was stupid," he declared, his face - from which an expression of disdain or hurt or worse is rarely absent - on this occasion dwarfing all previous achievements of dumb eloquence.

No doubt Hasselbaink's emotions were valid enough, but as one old pro - and Leeds insider - put it: "You could only imagine the effect inside the Chelsea dressing room. It isn't pretty speculation. This kind of thing is poison to team spirit and, with things as they are at Chelsea, simply disastrous."

Certainly it means that the embattled manager Gianluca Vialli, whose after-match sentiments were not too loosely interpreted by one tabloid as the categorisation of his team as "bottlers," faces another ordeal by fire at St James' Park today against top-of-the-table Newcastle. Hasselbaink's public disaffection is just another potential point of combustion.

If ever a team had a need to present a common front it is surely the foreign legionnaires of Stamford Bridge after defeat by Bradford and draws with Aston Villa and Arsenal. With the season just four games old, Vialli has faced disparaging remarks from Frank Leboeuf and the departing Didier Deschamps and had the ultimately undermining experience of reading criticism of the team from chairman, Ken Bates. For all their talent, and relentless investment abroad, Chelsea remain a club in search of a team capable of juggling the sharply differing demands of the Premiership and Europe.

Hasselbaink's performance on Wednesday night - despite the vibrant work on the field - suggested the quest is as elusive as ever. Hasselbaink's assets are plain enough. He has pace, energy and a killer touch around the goal. But his less uplifting qualities are also well known.

In the Dutchman's early days at Elland Road, the manager George Graham was obliged to forcefully curb his egocentric behaviour on the field, at one stage dropping him to make the point that football is essentially a team game. Interestingly, the Chelsea defender Celestine Babayaro, enlivened the question-and-answer formula in the Arsenal match programme by listing the worst sound he had ever heard on the field as Hasselbaink's "high-pitched" scream of "Cross the ball." At Elland Road, Graham's successor David O'Leary talked scathingly of the fashion in which Hasselbaink defied the terms of his contract on his way to Atletico Madrid.

At Chelsea, Hasselbaink's castigation of his team-mates offended a tradition, an unwritten contract, which has always been observed at the most successful English clubs. Part of that tradition is not to make free with a team-mate's hair-dryer or shampoo. Even more importantly, you don't trash him in public.

At Leeds Don Revie insisted the rule was followed religiously, as one member of his team was recalling this week in the wake of Hasselbaink's outburst.

"There was a famous occasion," he recalled, "when a young Norman Hunter was complaining in a game that Jack Charlton's failure to keep tight on the opposing striker was unbalancing the defence. He was told to raise the issue in the dressing room. Hunter made his point, Billy Bremner agreed and Jack Charlton - who had a reputation for not always being right, but never being wrong - replied: 'You're all talking crap.' Revie listened to the debate for some time, then cut it short. He said: 'I've listened to you all, and my decision is that in future you track down your man, Jack.' Charlton said: 'I still think you're all talking crap,' but I'll do what you tell me'." He then threw a cup of hot tea across the dressing room.

Vialli can only dream of such a rough but effective team ethos. He will no doubt have noted, despairingly at times, that at Manchester United and Arsenal, the clubs who still serve as such glowing models for the ever more desperately striving Chelsea, that at Old Trafford and Highbury the dirty washing tends to stay in the club laundry.

Shortly after winning the double in the 1970s, Arsenal's dressing room was in such post-match turmoil that Bob McNab struck a complaining Alan Ball. But not a whisper of the conflict besmirched the marble halls half an hour later.

In today's Highbury, Arsÿne Wenger continues to build on the fierce unity first created by the tough regime of Graham. Skillfully, the Frenchman embraced Graham's all-for-one, one-for-all, style while applying his own grace notes to the games of his veteran defenders.

When Vialli moved from the dressing room to the manager's office, he did not inherit such promising ground. His relationship with the departing manager Ruud Gullit had been disastrous, and suddenly he was no longer one of the boys.

In this week's painful inquest it was thus a little ironic that Gianfranco Zola was heard to complain loudly about the treatment he had received from Vialli. When Deschamps left Chelsea for Valencia, he said that "Luca" had changed since taking the manager's job. He wasn't the same old carefree character he had known in the Juventus dressing room. Of course he wasn't.

He was the most pressurised manager in the Premiership, the one with a multi-million pound budget and a team spirit which some of his rivals wouldn't buy for 50p. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, for the moment at least, has not done wonders for the price.